Who is This “Jon Shafer” Fellow Anyways?

Hi everyone! I’m the president of Conifer Games, an indie development studio based out of Michigan and founded in 2012. My team and I are committed to delivering a new generation of deep, replayable gaming experiences for the PC.

Along with taking care of the business stuff, I’m also the designer and gameplay/AI programmer for At The Gates, an empire builder where you lead a barbarian kingdom to glory amidst the fall of the Roman Empire.

Before founding Conifer, I worked at Firaxis Games for six years and while there served as the lead designer and principal gameplay/AI programmer for Sid Meier’s Civilization 5 back when I was 21. Following that, I was employed by Stardock Entertainment for two years, acting as a design consultant and director for an unannounced project.

If you want to read more about what I’ve been up to professionally over the years, you can head over to my public LinkedIn profile.


Okay, That’s What You’ve Done – Who Are You?

I was born and raised in Aurora, Colorado. I’ve attended Colorado State University and Towson University, and have a BS in history. That’s right. Bachelors of science. Don’t ask.

Since joining the games industry in 2005 I’ve lived in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Michigan. My biggest passion is learning and improving myself. My amateur studies focus on history, astronomy, biology, technology and – of course – game design. I spend way too much time on Wikipedia, and not nearly enough on my backlog of hobbies that I (at least claim I) want to do.

I could probably be called a huge Google fanboy, even though I use hardware built by Apple and operating systems written by Microsoft. I am, indeed, a tormented soul. My entire life exists in Google’s cloud universe, and when Google Glass is released I have no doubt I’ll become one of those people. Don’t judge me too harshly. I promise I’m harmless. Sigh. I was a guest on the Digital Life podcast talking about embracing the cloud.

I am ever a student of game design – a field where I’ve learned that your ideas are more likely to be bad than good no matter how much experience you have under your belt. Even in my free time I always have that itch to work on one of my game projects. For over a decade now I’ve found it much more rewarding to make games than to actually play them.

My brain is wired to find large, difficult challenges to tackle. One day a few years back I decided on a whim to learn Japanese, and over the next six months memorized over two thousand kanji characters over the next six months. I’m now building a massive, complex strategy game where the roster of full-time developers totals exactly one. That probably makes me a little crazy, but I also recognize that I’m fortunate to have that kind of natural drive.

I write down everything. I have hundreds and hundreds of pages of brainstorming on game ideas, plans for the future, baseball roster organization… you name it. Alas, this is not just handy but necessary, as my memory isn’t up to the task of keeping everything in my far-too-porous noggin.


So What’s This Website For?

This blog is where I share my thoughts on all things game development. Topics I cover range from design (particularly in the strategy genre) to project management to the business as a whole. Most of my articles focus on material that’s somewhat abstract, but I’ll also occasionally post a more in-depth case study of a specific title that’s caught my eye.

I also use this website to cross-post episodes of (plus a bit of commentary on) The Game Design Round Table, a podcast I co-host with tabletop designer Dirk Knemeyer.

Well, I think that’s about it! If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to 1) leave a comment in one of the articles, 2) say hi on Twitter, 3) become a member of the official Conifer Games forum, and/or 4) just email me directly (Jon.Shafer@ConiferGames.com).

Thanks for stopping by!

– Jon

Leave a comment


  1. Ian Morrison

     /  March 6, 2013

    Hello Jon,

    When can we expect a Forum or Official site to pop up for Conifer Games or At The Gates? Additionally, I’m a YouTube User and do a lot of Let’s Plays. I do Monetize where I can and I wonder if your company or this specific game will be an Eligible candidate a year down the road or so when it is released.


  2. We, in fact, do have sites for AtG, Conifer and an official forum!





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